The early buzz surrounding Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been astoundingly positive. The film's early reviews use words like "phenomenal" and "spectacular," and our own Kofi Outlaw called the film " 'The Dark Knight' of 'Planet of the Apes' movies."
The previous film in the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was a surprise hit when it released in 2011, winning over moviegoers and critics alike with its gripping, emotional story and incredible visual effects (read our review). But it was Andy Serkis' motion capture performance as Caesar the ape that really had audiences raving.
Serkis first rose to prominence with his performance (also motion captured) as Gollum in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. More so than any CGI rendered character before him, Gollum was a thinking, breathing character that believably appeared onscreen with human actors, and this was largely due to Serkis' performance and his understanding of the technology. It was a role that not only put Serkis on the map, but it also made audiences and industry insiders take note of motion capture performances.
Since then - and especially after his truly remarkable portrayal of Caesar in Rise - the debate over whether motion capture performances should be considered equal to any actors' performance has become more heated. And with the early buzz around Dawn being so favorable that many are tossing around Serkis' latest performance as worthy of an Oscar nomination, it makes us wonder if the time for mo-cap performance to be given equal treatment is near.
Now, in our interview with Dawn the of the Planet of the Apes' director Matt Reeves, he voices his opinion on whether motion capture performances should receive nominations and awards just like any other onscreen performance. Said Reeves:
Well, if you ask me, of course I’m going to say yes, because I worked with them intimately and I know what they were as actors ... Most of the time, what I’d been looking at for the past year is just those performances. I’ve been looking at Andy and Toby [Kebbel] and the other ape actors and the other human actors ... I’ve been looking at their performances intimately for a year, in addition to the year that I spent with them when we were rehearsing and shooting the movie. I think that the two of them are incredible. Andy and Toby are two of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I think they are incredible.
When sitting in a movie theater, watching the finished product, it can be difficult to remember there are real actors behind those impressively rendered apes. But without them, those characters could so easily appear lifeless and innate.
Reeves also notes that motion capture performers can't take all the credit, as the animators labor extensively to create the lifelike characters we take for granted. But again, he reiterates that the real soul of these characters stem from the actors' performances:
A lot of people say, “Oh, well, but there’s a thing going on. It’s a device. The device is giving part of the performance.” It’s not actually true. You can’t have Caesar or Koba without Weta. It doesn’t exist. They create that. But you don’t have the heart and soul of those characters without Andy and Toby. If you are responding emotionally to their performances in whatever way, you are responding emotionally to Andy and Toby. And the genius of what Weta does is that it takes equal artistry to take something that is the performance of an actor and then find a way to make it translate onto the anatomy of an ape which is entirely different from their anatomy.
Andy’s face doesn’t look like Caesar’s face. Toby’s face doesn’t look like Koba’s face. Their bodies, their arms are different lengths. And all of these things are part of the illusion. Then there’s the hair simulations and the skin and all of this amazing stuff that Weta does. But all of that follows from the performance in terms of the emotion.
And it's this dichotomy - the fact that Caesar or Gollum or any of the Na'vi from Avatar wouldn't exist without both the actors and the animators - that gives people pause before agreeing that mo-capped performances deserve equal consideration at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, et cetera.
Reeves has an answer for that too, pointing out the obvious by saying:
People have said, "Maybe there should be a special category.” I’m saying "No, there really are two categories already that fit. One is best performance by an actor, and that is what Toby and Andy do. And then there is sort of best visual effects, and that is what Weta does.”
When put so concisely, the argument against including motion captured performances in the same award category as any actor's performance might seem silly, especially if the animators are given their due in the best visual effects categories. If the purpose is to judge and award the best performance, then why not pull from every available and lauded performance?
Where do you stand on this argument of motion capture performances, Screen Rant readers? Sound off in the comments below! And GO HERE to read the rest of our interview with director Matt Reeves.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes releases in theaters this Friday, July 11th, 2014.